March 1, 2009

More Druid changes on the 3.1 PTR

The above headline is a polite, succinct means of saying "I went AFK for a few hours yesterday and returned to 2/3 of the Druid class wanting to throw itself in front of an oncoming train."

Additions to the latest PTR build aren't extensive for Druids but include a 10% nerf to stamina returns from Heart of the Wild in the feral tree, and a doubling of Lifebloom's mana cost (and reworking of its bloom mechanics) in the Restoration tree.

Well, no point checking our watches waiting for the next harbinger of welcome death by way of light commuter rail. Let's take a look.

HEART OF THE WILD: Stamina bonus changed to 2/4/6/8/10%.

Ouch, baby.

Before I write anything else, a quick note to the people spamming the Tanking and Druid forums with End-of-the-World proclamations; it's the frigging public test realm. None of this is set in stone. Calmez-vous.

I can finally stay on the PTR without disconnecting every 5-10 minutes, so I hopped on and started comparing the character sheet to my main's live version. The biggest problem right now is that the HotW change (in addition to the Survival of the Fittest armor nerf) has gone live on the PTR without Savage Defense going live alongside it. If you get any toons copied to the PTR or can just finally log on successfully, you'll find yourself down several thousand armor and several thousand HP without Savage Defense active to compensate.

How big is the nerf? In the comparison below I'm running the exact same gear set and the exact same talent build with the exception of Primal Gore's substitution for Omen of Clarity for testing purposes (neither talent has any effect on the numbers below). I am not rocking full best-in-slot gear due to abysmal luck with drops and giving the initial drops of Noth's bracers and Loatheb's boots to our Rogue (having to compete with Rogues for tanking gear is one of the most irritating facets of our collective Wrath experience). I'm also running a fairly stam-heavy set as much of it has to be used in my Sarth 3D tanking kit. While I'm not particularly pleased about that, I'm also not a Jewelcrafter or Leatherworker, and we don't have a Death Knight tank for Sarth 3D, so...yeah.

As an additional note, the small "buffs" you're seeing on the PTR version to dodge, attack power, and crit are the result of the new 2% stat increase from Improved Mark of the Wild. So, yes, unbuffed I have an additonal 13 AP, 0.29% dodge, and 0.20% crit as a result of IMotW. If you run a spec with 5/5 Furor instead of 2/2 IMotW and 3/5 Furor, then your attack power, crit, and dodge will not change between the live realms and the PTR.


33,853 armor (68.97% physical damage reduction before Protector of the Pack)
36.45% dodge
4854 attack power
35.06% crit
35,237 HP


27,910 armor (64.69% physical damage reduction before Protector of the Pack)
36.74% dodge
4867 attack power
35.26% crit
33,427 HP

To Toskk's we go. Toskk's TTL calculator has been updated to reflect the contribution of Savage Defense (but not the HotW nerf, so I'm using 2/5 HotW at 12% stamina contribution here -- the difference between the 12% and 10% contributions doesn't have a statistically significant effect on TTL for the vast majority of current Wrath bosses), so it's safe to start running Theory Bear through her paces.

Her TTL calculation now clocks in at 10.842 seconds, with a Savage Defense shield proc of 1216.75 damage. That's pretty respectable, but if the HotW change never goes live, the TTL calculation clocks in at 11.429 seconds on an average raid boss. Essentially, the difference between a pre-nerf HotW bear and a post-nerf HotW bear is a little more than half a second to live in the same gear.

The problem isn't so much that we were nerfed; Savage Defense is going to be pretty damn good, especially if we find more +crit itemization on Ulduar gear. It's that we were nerfed without the intended compensatory mechanic going live. SD doesn't quite make up for HotW's stamina reduction, but half a second either way seems to fall pretty squarely into what Blizzard's willing to work with for tank TTL % differences. What I don't understand is why the armor nerf would go live without it, and then the HP nerf piled on top of it. The cumulative effect on bears is significantly nerfed mitigation on top of a lower HP pool, with Druids unable to make up the difference on the current PTR build in the absence of additional cooldowns or improved talents.

One reasonable explanation might be Blizzard's desire to see how much damage Druids actually take from progression raid bosses on the PTR before SD is actually implemented. Then again, bears aren't a particularly attractive choice for competitive raiding guilds on the PTR with both nerfs now live, and that may negatively affect just how much data emerges from this. So far I haven't seen a PTR kill with a Druid main tank, although it's possible I've just missed it.

What honestly worries me more than anything else is that we're being nerfed at the same time that healer mana regen mechanics are being changed so dramatically, to what ultimate effect concerning the ease of tank healing I'm not sure. Our avoidance is going to stay the lowest of all four tanks no matter what, and that necessarily bleeds into the total mana consumption of our heal teams. Our armor is going to be comparable to a decently-geared Death Knight in Frost Presence without their avoidance or cooldowns: our health is going to be comparable to a Blood-specced Death Knight without their avoidance or cooldowns: our physical damage mitigation is going to be comparable to a decently-geared Warrior or Paladin without their avoidance or, in the Warrior's case, their cooldowns: and our magic damage mitigation will continue to be worse than a Death Knight or Warrior's. On top of that, there's no buff or nerf (outside of the new Glyph of Berserk) that's aimed at addressing Bears' relatively weak capacity for burst or AoE threat.

Without additional cooldowns or tweaked talents, Bears are in kind of an iffy spot entering Tier 8 as things stand right now. Healers can afford to spam you with whatever they've got on current content, but when mana management becomes an issue, I'm somewhat concerned that the tank who is still designed to gobble most of it is going to be a significantly less attractive choice on top of providing less margin for healer error with a reduced health pool.

We'll see. I'm still interested to see if the new weighting or itemization toward +crit for Savage Defense assists with the threat issue, and we're still not far enough into Ulduar content or achievements to figure out whether bears are at a disadvantage (or advantage) in relation to other tanks.

MAIM: This ability is now considered a stun, and shares a diminish category with all other stuns. It no longer has a chance to break from the target taking damage. Duration lowered to 1 second per combo point.

We've already discussed the Maim change, but the expanded notes here give a better sense of what Blizzard intended. As I've previously observed, the nerf (insofar as it is one) seems mostly aimed at slowing the lolmelee juggernaut in arena. Maim was previously an Incapacitate effect and thus not subject to the same diminishing returns as Bash and Pounce. While your abiity to "stunlock" people is getting a significant nerf, one of the strengths of a stun (as opposed to an Incapacitate effect) is that the amount of damage done to the target won't break it.

The duration change is a new one, however. It's a more significant nerf at fewer combo points -- as of now you get a 3-second Incapacitate for 1 combo point -- and is going to incentivize Druids to stay in form as much as possible to build CP's on a target for either a worthwhile defensive or offensive stun. With all feral healing and Cyclone in caster form, that's not necessarily a good thing. Thoughts from feral PvPer's?

LIFEBLOOM: Mana costs of all ranks doubled. When Lifebloom blooms or is dispelled, It now refunds half the base mana cost of the spell per application of Lifebloom, and the heal effect is multiplied by the number of applications.

/poke poke

How ya doing after that bear nerf, buddy? Did it hurt?

/poke poke

/prod prod

How about now?

Ghostcrawler explained the reasoning behind the nerf/buff in a forum thread here. Where I differ from Blizzard on the issue is that rolling Lifebloom stacks on multiple tanks requires a fair amount of type-A multi-tasking on your end unless that's literally all you're doing. If you really are doing nothing more than rolling Lifeblooms on your tanks and letting the rest of the heal team pick up the slack on burst damage and raid healing, you pretty much fail at being a tree -- and there's no way you'll come within a mile of topping the heal charts unless the rest of the heal team fails as well (in which case the raid's probably dead and who came first on healing is a moot point).

I consider Restoration Druids to be the healing equivalents of Affliction Warlocks. They keep their DoT's up, we keep our HoT's up, and we are enormously effective and efficient at our respective jobs only as long as we continually refresh our spells when needed but not before. That requires a certain degree of skill, experience, and -- let's be honest -- the use of mods to watch what spells are ticking on whom and how quickly. On many fights, trees have the added difficulty of watching HoT stacks comprised (ideally) of more than just Lifebloom on multiple tanks, whereas DPS is typically focused on only one target at a time (unless they're using AoE abilities). And, if you're any good at your job, you're sneaking in direct heals to compensate for burst damage or account for a DPS who, say, got a little too close to Sapphiron's tail. Letting a Lifebloom stack bloom, however, is still a serious and costly mistake in PvE content. You waste time, mana, and GCD's re-applying a full stack, in addition to risking the lapse of whatever other HoT's you have running on that target or elsewhere.

If Blizzard is truly planning a number of multiple-tank fights where Lifebloom would have been overpowered in relation to the capabilites of other healing classes (and I have to wonder; there's been a lot of complaints on the forums as to the current overpopulation of tanks in relation to the raid slots that are actually available for them), then it's reasonable to reexamine the spell's design. Their intent, I assume from what I'm reading from GC here, is to make you prioritize which tanks will receive the stacks and which ones can't -- or how much you can actually do outside of rolling Lifeblooms on 2+ tanks, if you even roll them at all. My fear here is the return of multiple-add fights in the model of Moroes, High King, and Illidari Council -- because that's going to be sheer hell for a tree. Either you resign yourself to running OOM at some point in the fight and depend on the DPS' ability to end the encounter before that occurs, or you limit yourself to one or, at most, two tanks to roll LB stacks on and make the healing job more difficult and the damage "spikier" on the other tank or tanks.

From a PvP perspective, however, this is a significant buff in all respects barring mana cost. HoT removal in the current season is destroying Druids and their partners alike, to the point where queue-dodging versus Death Knight teams is a sad but common practice. Other classes will still be capable of removing Lifebloom even after DK's lose the ability to do so, and this punishes the purge rather more heavily than is the current case. Not only will the Druid gain some mana back on the bloom, but successive stacks of LB will punish a purge by healing for more. Between this and the efforts to nerf RNG stuns and the strength of DPS in arena, this may be enough to put Resto back into contention as a viable arena spec.

Actually -- I'm kind of worried that the Lifebloom change is too strong for arena. Once you've got 3 stacks up on yourself or a partner, the other team basically has to forget about purging it and will have to CC the Resto or burst the partner down. With the added resilience of Season 6 gear, the latter tactic is going to become more difficult. The doubled cost of Lifebloom may be enough to balance this, but Nourish is also getting considerable buffs in 3.1. Resto has done poorly in Season 5; I expect it to do much better in Season 6, in much the same way that Druids did significantly better in Season 2.

One more thing; will the Lifebloom change actually have the effect of making multiple trees more valuable for a raid? One of the bigger complaints concerning Resto Druids and Priests is that they just don't need to be stacked the same way that Paladins and Shamans do. Paladins bring different auras and buffs and Shamans bring different totems -- trees bring HoT's, the +healing buff (that doesn't stack),and MotW (doesn't stack). If it's not particularly mana-efficient for a tree to run a full Lifebloom stack on more than one tank, but the stacks are too valuable to give up and do too much to cushion dangerous burst, this incentivizes heal teams to bring multiple Resto Druids. Especially if a Resto is occasionally (or frequently) allowing Lifebloom to bloom (probably to overheal most of the time, as Syd cynically observes) in order to get mana back, that's a massively complicated thing for one person to manage if they're attempting to do it on more than one tank. Hrm.

Just as an FYI, this nerf doesn't actually seem to have gone live on the PTR just yet -- as of testing a few minutes ago as I write this (3:30 PM EST on Saturday), Lifebloom still costs 14% base mana and does not return mana upon blooming.

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